Know the difference: Product Manager vs Project Manager

Product manager and Project manager are two of the most important roles in every technology company. That is why understanding the difference between them is so crucial. Although both the job roles involve quite different tasks and responsibilities, they are often mistaken for each other. 

If you have to explain the difference between a Product Manager and a Project Manager to someone in just a sentence or two, I think this common saying making the rounds in the industry does the job of explaining it pretty well.

“A Product Manager is responsible for the What and the Why.
A Project Manager is responsible for the Who, When, and How.”

I am sure if you are still reading this, you are interested in knowing more than that. To make things clearer, let’s simplify the process by first understanding what a product and a project are.

Product vs Project

Product

A product is anything that solves a problem or satisfies a consumer’s wants or needs. A product can be anything from a physical product (book) to a software (book inventory management application) or a service (on-demand ebook subscription service).

Products go through a lifecycle that consists of multiple stages.  First, the product is conceived and then developed. Then the product is introduced to the market where it grows in acceptance until it matures. When a product reaches maturity, its sales tend to slow down or level off after reaching a peak.

Although companies generally attempt to keep the product alive in the maturity stage as long as possible, the decline for every product is inevitable. Finally, the product is retired when the need for it diminishes.

Project

A project is a set of activities that are necessary to create a product or a service or to bring some aspect of the product to a specific outcome.

A project is usually a temporary endeavor with a start and end date and a well-defined outcome. It usually goes through five stages – project initiation, project planning, project execution, project monitoring, and project closure.

It’s important to understand that product development requires a set of activities, i.e. a project, to reach the desired outcome, and that multiple projects can occur within a product’s life cycle.

Product Manager

A Product Manager is responsible for the development of product strategy, and for setting the product direction throughout all the stages of the product lifecycle. It is his/her responsibility to gather requirements by talking to the end-users, to translate them into a design or MVP (Minimum Viable Product), and to lead a development team to build the product and meet those needs.

A product manager’s job is more business-oriented and requires a keen lookout for growth opportunities. 

Since a product manager is responsible for strategy development and product vision, he/she tends to communicate with other departments, such as marketing, sales, or product team,  a lot in order to align the organization around a cohesive plan.

Some of the common tasks Product Managers are responsible for:

  • Talking to users/customers to gather requirements
  • Identifying problems and opportunities
  • Prioritizing product and customer requirements
  • Defining the product vision
  • Communicating vision to the stakeholders and different teams involved
  • Creating and maintaining the product roadmap
  • Working with different teams to keep everyone aligned to the product vision and business goals

Project Manager

A Project Manager is responsible for the execution and the successful delivery of the project within a specific deadline and budget. They take the product vision from the product manager and create a project timeline by breaking down initiatives into tasks and allocate resources. A project manager is also responsible for the completion of the tasks and communicating progress to the stakeholders.

Some of the common tasks Project Managers are responsible for:

  • Breaking down the plan into doable tasks and planning the project timeline
  • Allocating project resources efficiently to save time and money
  • Managing team workload and monitoring accurate project time-log
  • Identifying potential problems and managing risk
  • Monitoring task completion and communicating progress to stakeholder

Conclusion

In short, a product manager and a project manager require a different set of skills to excel in their particular role. At some small companies, and sometimes even at larger corporations, one can find some overlap between the roles of product managers and project managers. But rest assured, the roles and responsibilities of one are completely different from that of the other. Having said that, there are certain skills that both a product manager and a project manager must have/develop in order to be successful: strategic thinking, delegation, listening skills, problem-solving, and effective communication. Keeping the confusion and their overlapping skills aside, it is clear that the product manager and project manager are two of the most crucial roles in a tech company and that their differences should complement each other well in order to be successful.

If you are all set and ready to transition into Product Management and land that dream job of yours, you can apply to the upcoming cohort of Knowledge Officer PRO Product Management Program Here.